Forced Marriage Overseas: Bangladesh

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Overview

Individuals from the United States may face hurdles and risks if trying to avoid and/or escape marriages in Bangladesh. Although the government has recently made substantial efforts to enact strong laws protecting women and girls from various forms of violence, lack of implementation and challenges with enforcement have hindered reforms.1 The last few years have seen worsening human rights conditions in country, including early and forced marriages as well as other forms domestic and sexual violence against women and girls.2

For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Bangladesh, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.

Marriage in Bangladesh

Forced marriage is  a significant problem in Bangladesh. Although the Child Marriage Restraint Act sets the age of consent for marriage at 18 years of age for females and 21 years of age for males,4 this law is generally not enforced and many underage girls are secretly married off by their parents.5 There are no specific laws in Bangladesh banning forced marriages of adult.3 In a March 2013 report, UNICEF noted that Bangladesh had the second-highest child marriage rate in the world, with 66% of girls entering into marriage before reaching the age of 18.6

The vast majority of the population follows mostly uncodified laws based on the religious law or customs of their  community (Shari’ah for the majority Muslim population, Hindu law for the Hindu minority),7 and confusion exists over the dual application of national laws and religious laws, both among citizens and members of the legal community.8 It is also still customary throughout Bangladesh for parents/guardians to arrange and negotiate marriages, and the age of an individual at the time of the marriage can be difficult to prove due to rampant noncompliance with birth registration laws and forging of affidavits by guardians.9 Divorce can be challenging to access for women as laws favor men, and procedural hurdles can make it a costly and time consuming process.10 Judicial divorce is also not recognized for Hindus in Bangladesh.11

Potential Risks and Protections in Country

In Bangladesh, there are some protections for women and girls facing forced marriage or other threats of violence, but corruption and other hurdles can place victims at risk. In 2010 the Bangladesh parliament passed the Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Act, which criminalized domestic violence, but it remains largely unenforced due to lack of awareness of the law itself as well as women’s fear of reporting.12 There is also a risk of fines and imprisonment to victims if their accusations are proven false.13

Local police often play a role in the prevention of forced marriages and are tasked with providing assistance to victims and potential victims.14 The Bangladesh Government has set up special response units to deal with cases of violence against women, which employ female officers (with help from the district police if necessary) to enforce search warrants to rescue victims and conduct investigations.15 Despite the Bangladesh Government’s efforts to combat violence and other crimes against women, including forced marriage, enforcement remains a problem.16 Human Rights Watch, in its 2013 progress report, notes that Bangladesh’s human rights situation worsened in the year 2012 and suggests that the government often shields officials from accountability.17

NGOs frequently report that Bangladeshis have to pay bribes to police in order to receive services and protection, and claim that police “rarely enforce existing laws protecting women.”18 Police may conduct interviews with forced marriage victims in the presence of their families, or they may treat forced marriage claims as internal family matters rather than involving potential criminal acts.19 In some forced marriage cases, police may take the side of the victim’s family, and collude with the family to move the marriage along or keep the victim in the country by setting up lookouts at the border.20

Special Challenges in Returning to the United States

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports of parents attempting to force their sons or daughters into unwanted marriages in Bangladesh. As noted above, officials may collude with family members to prevent individuals facing forced marriage from leaving the country. Please check the entry and exit requirements for Bangladesh for the most up to date information.

Assistance for Individuals from the United States

  • The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
    We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Bangladesh, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.

Get Help

  • The U.S. State Department
    The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Bangladesh.
  • U.S. Embassy Dhaka
    Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
    Tel: (880) (2) 885-5500
    Email: dhakaACS@state.gov

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REFERENCES
1 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2013, Bangladesh (2013), available at http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/Bangladesh (last visited Feb. 2, 2014); Country of Origin Information Service (COIS), Operational Guidance Note Bangladesh, Bangladesh OGN v10.0 (September 2013) at 18, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5236fec34.pdf (last visited February 27, 2014).
2 Amnesty International, Annual Report: Bangladesh 2013, available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-bangladesh-2013?page=show; Country of Origin Information Service(COIS), Operational Guidance Note Bangladesh, Bangladesh OGN v10.0 (September 2013), at 18, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5236fec34.pdf (last visited February 27, 2014).
3 Embassy of the United States: Dhaka, Bangladesh, Forced Marriage in Bangladesh, available at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/forced_marriage_definitions.html (last visited Jan. 31, 2014); DW: Women Talk Online, Forced Marriage in Bangladesh – Still a Major Problem (April 30, 2012), available at http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2012/04/30/forced-marriage-in-bangladesh-still-a-major-problem/ (last visited Feb. 6, 2014); Hossain, Sara and Suzanne Turner, Abduction for Forced Marriage – Rights and remedies in Bangladesh and Pakistan, (2001), at 15-24, available at http://www.soas.ac.uk/honourcrimes/resources/file55687.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014).
4 The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, modified in Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Ordinance, 1984 (Ordinance No. XXXVIII of 1984), § 2(a), available at http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/print_sections.php?id=149&vol=&sections_id=4950 (last visited Dec. 28, 2013).
5 IRIN ASIA, Bangladesh: Parents still not heeding child marriage warnings (April 6, 2011).
6 UNICEF, Joint Press Release, Child Marriages: 39,000 Every Day, available at http://www.unicef.org/media/media_68114.html (last visited Feb. 6, 2014).
7 The Hindu Married Women’s Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act, 1946 and the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961; Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations (January 2014), available at http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/Protecting_the_Girl_Child_Annex.pdf (last visited March 18, 2014), at p.14.
8 Dr. Faustina Pereira, Civil Laws Governing Christians in Bangladesh: A Proposal for Reform, The South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (2011), at 10; Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations (2014), available at http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/Protecting_the_Girl_Child_Annex.pdf (last visited Mar. 18, 2014).
9 Rabia Bhuyan, Gender and Tradition in Marriage and Divorce: an Analysis of Personal Laws of Muslim and Hindu Women in Bangladesh (2010), at 102-104. See also, IRIN ASIA, Bangladesh: Parents still not heeding child marriage warnings (April 6, 2011), available at http://www.irinnews.org/report/92375/bangladesh-parents-still-not-heeding-child-marriage-warnings (last visited March 18, 2014); DW: Women Talk Online, Forced Marriage in Bangladesh – Still a Major Problem, available at http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2012/04/30/forced-marriage-in-bangladesh-still-a-major-problem/ (last visited March 18, 2014).
10 Final Report of the Law Commission of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on the Proposed Amendment of the Divorce Act of 1869 (February 19, 2006).
11 Shahnaz Huda, Combating Gender Injustice: Hindu Law in Bangladesh, The South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Issues (2011), at 14.
12 IRIN, Bangladeshi slum dwellers face higher risk of domestic violence (September 5, 2013), available at http://www.irinnews.org/report/98697/bangladeshi-slum-dwellers-face-higher-risk-of-domestic-violence (last visited Dec. 22, 2013).
13 Priyo News, Women repression, dowry: Law needs changes to check false cases (February 16, 2011), available at http://news.priyo.com/law-and-order/2011/feb/16/women-repression-dowry-law-nee-20016.html (last visited Dec. 28, 2013).
14 Embassy of the United States: Dhaka Bangladesh, Forced Marriage in Bangladesh, available at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/forced_marriage_definitions.html (last visited Jan. 31, 2014).
15 Yusuf, Rizwana, Massive Capacity Building at the Management Level for Effective Police Action on Violence Against Women, Institute of Hazrat Mohammad (SAW), available at http://www.ihmsaw.org/resourcefiles/1288448692.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014); Naripokkho and Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Baseline report Violence Against Women in Bangladesh, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, available at http://www.iwraw-ap.org/aboutus/pdf/FPvaw.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014).
16 Id.; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2013, Bangladesh, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/Bangladesh (last visited Feb. 2, 2014); Sara Hossain and Suzanne Turner, Abduction for Forced Marriage – Rights and remedies in Bangladesh and Pakistan (2001), at 15-24, available at http://www.soas.ac.uk/honourcrimes/resources/file55687.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014).
17 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2013, Bangladesh (2013), available at http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/Bangladesh (last visited Feb. 2, 2014).
18 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Bangladesh: Domestic violence, including legislation, state protection, and services available to victims 2007-July 2011 (September 8, 2011), available at http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/203055/308008_en.html (last accessed December 28, 2013).
19 Sara Hossain and Suzanne Turner, Abduction for Forced Marriage – Rights and remedies in Bangladesh and Pakistan (2001), at 15-24, available at http://www.soas.ac.uk/honourcrimes/resources/file55687.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014); Adam Chowdhury, Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights, Violence against Girls in Bangladesh (2003), 34th session of the Comm. On the Rights of the Child, available at http://resourcecentre.savethechildren.se/sites/default/files/documents/2082.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014).
20 See, e.g., International Crisis Group, Bangladesh: Getting Police Reform on Track (2009), Asia report N’182, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4b22758b2.pdf (last visited Apr. 3, 2014).
21 Sara Hossain and Suzanne Turner, Abduction for Forced Marriage – Rights and remedies in Bangladesh and Pakistan (2001), at 15-24, available at http://www.soas.ac.uk/honourcrimes/resources/file55687.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2014); Embassy of the United States: Dhaka, Bangladesh, Forced Marriage in Bangladesh, available at http://dhaka.usembassy.gov/forced_marriage_definitions.html (last visited Feb. 2, 2014).
22 U.S. Department of State, Bangladesh Country Specific Information, available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1011.html (last visited Jan. 7, 2014).

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